A little person was in my house recently. Very little. His parents and I hovered close as he joyfully plundered the theme park of chokeable hazards that is the room shared by my nine and twelve year old sons. Then we followed as he toddled off toward the teenager’s lair, an obstacle course strewn with skateboards, electrical cables, and discarded batteries. As he charged with impressive precision toward the corner of our glass and steel dining table, my hand shot out automatically to intercept him. I was amazed I still had the reflex. It’s been a while.
There was a time when I lived in the land of the littles. I had three children in the span of five years. It seemed like I would dwell there forever, but now my sons are big kids. Parenting is still very much a verb, but it’s different out here in these middle years. Watching my friends with their toddler reminded me how far I’ve traveled in my mothering journey. There’s so much I know now that I couldn’t know then.
I don’t wish myself back, but if I could send a message in a bottle through time, I would have a few things to say to the mom I was when I started out:
Forget achieving balance for a while. It’s okay if things are lopsided (as long as you’re staying afloat). The little years are demanding enough without judging yourself for coming up short on one piece of life’s pie chart or another. Some of the pie will wait.
Don’t lose “me” in the “we.” Motherhood will profoundly change you, but it shouldn’t obliterate your identity. The little years may not be the best time to knock big items off the bucket list, but it’s important to cultivate a sense of self beyond family life. Commit to a weekly lunch date with friends, a long walk, or even a chapter of book that has nothing to do with parenting. Whatever feeds your soul.
Let your children be their own “me.” Don’t project your personality onto your kids, however much they may look and act like you at times. They’re not a miniature version of you. Stay curious about who they are–don’t assume you know.
Get out of fathering. Mother may know best about mothering, but dads have parenting instincts too. Let him fumble and figure it out, just as you’ve had to do. Consider that his style of nurturing is a complement to yours, not a contradiction.
Hold your parenting opinions lightly. What works for your family may not work for somebody else. What works for your family right now is bound to change later. - Offer encouragement, not judgment, to other moms. Believe it or not, they probably love their children just as much as you love yours, and are thinking just as hard about how best to raise them.
This is not as good as it gets. The little old ladies in the checkout lane have it partly right. The years do fly, and children grow up fast. But they don’t tell you how much there is to look forward to. Moms of littles, I have come from the future to tell you, it’s a glorious thing when everybody can go to the bathroom and get in and out of the car by themselves. Yes, there will come a summer day when you can read a magazine by the pool. So hang in there. Sure, there are things you will miss about the sweet days when your children were small. But don’t feel bad for not cherishing every second of them now. You will be a mom the rest of your life, however grown up your children are, and there’s still so much sweetness to come.
Kyran Pittman is the author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband and three sons.
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